May 17, 2013

Bill attacks 'epidemic' of military sex assaults

Co-authored by Maine's Susan Collins, the move to revamp the military's response to sexual assaults has bipartisan support.

By Kevin Miller kmiller@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Jennifer Norris of Rumford wipes away what she said were tears of joy on Thursday in Washington, DC, as she discussed legislation that would revamp the way the military prosecutes sexual assault cases. Norris said she was raped and sexually assaulted several times during her Air Force career, including during her time with the Maine Air National Guard.

Kevin Miller / Staff Writer

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Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, was among legislators Thursday unveiling a bill to revamp how the military handles sexual assault complaints.

The Associated Press

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The Gillibrand-Collins bill and its companion measure in the House are among a long list of proposed legislative fixes to the sexual assault issue pending with Congress. Collins and other lawmakers are also working on a bill that would require a mandatory dishonorable discharge for perpetrators convicted of rape and sexual assault.

Gillibrand said she expects her bill -- or pieces of it -- to be considered for inclusion in the omnibus defense spending authorization bill.

On Monday, the House is expected to vote on a measure sponsored by Maine Rep. Chellie Pingree -- and named for Maine veteran Ruth Moore -- that aims to help "military sexual trauma" victims qualify for disability benefits. The bill would apply the same evidentiary standards for mental health problems from sexual assault as applied to combat veterans seeking disability benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

Pingree discussed the issue with Obama during a recent meeting at the White House. On Thursday, she and Sen. Jon Tester of Montana -- lead sponsor of the Ruth Moore Act in the Senate -- sent a letter to the president urging him to implement the procedural changes at the U.S. Department of Veteran's Affairs without waiting for congressional action.

"In 2010, the VA relaxed evidentiary standards to make it easier for combat veterans suffering from PTSD to get the disability benefits they need," Pingree and Tester wrote. "It is past time the VA make a similar regulatory change for (military sexual trauma) survivors. And you can direct them to do so."

The Pentagon report released last week estimated that, based on anonymous surveys of more than 100,000 personnel, 26,000 service members experienced sexual assault or unwanted sexual contact in 2012. That represented a 37 percent increase from two years earlier. In actuality, fewer than 3,400 sexual assault or abuse cases were reported in 2012.

In remarks made after meeting with military officials Thursday, the president said leaders at the table had expressed "that they're ashamed by some of what's happened." The president indicated his administration would continue to work with Congress to address the issue. Defense Secretary Hagel will also hold weekly meetings to find solutions to the issue.

"There's no silver bullet to solving this problem. This is going to require a sustained effort over a long period of time," the president said, according to White House press pool reports.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at:


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